Having Depression And Anxiety Means Having A Brain Constantly At War With Itself

Having Depression And Anxiety Means Having A Brain Constantly At War With Itself

Torn between caring too much and not caring at all.

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I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2016, the two "common colds" of mental illness. Don't let that nickname fool you, though, because there is nothing common about the way these two work together to completely disrupt how my brain functions.

Sometimes, my brain seems to alternate between depressive and anxious episodes. I feel like I'm always trading off one for the other, rarely experiencing a "good" day where both remain relatively quiet. If my anxiety isn't kicking into high-gear, my depression is, and vice versa.

But oftentimes, these two demons will sync up together, both awakening from their slumbers simultaneously to go to war with each other with the intention of making my life a personal living hell.

Anxiety and depression essentially function as opposites to each other. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but generally, anxiety can be understood as an overactive mind and depression as an under-active mind. I have mostly learned how to cope when one or the other takes over, but what continues to challenge me is when the two strike at the same time.

Anxiety wants me to get up. If I don't get up, someone will be disappointed, or I'll miss a deadline, or everyone will think I'm lazy, or I'll just keep spiraling and spiraling and spiraling.

Depression doesn't let me get up. If I get up, I'll have to fake a smile at everyone, or I'll just hurt more people, or I won't be able to focus because who can focus on anything when everything you do feels utterly meaningless?

When both flare up at the same time, I'm rendered totally and completely useless. Although my mind may be going a million miles a minute and I want nothing more than to be productive so I can ease some of the tension of worrying over my responsibilities, I physically can't bring myself to get up. I can't move forward because for every racing thought, there is a rope holding it back.

It hurts my head — it feels like my brain is literally pushing against my skull with nowhere to go. It's dizzying and disorienting; and most of all, it is endlessly frustrating. It makes the simplest tasks impossible and I just want to scream at myself "WHY CAN'T YOU JUST DO THE THING?"

Dealing with the guilt is the hardest part because there's nothing I can do but feel every painful sting of it. I WANT to be able to just function properly, but I can't, and it makes me feel like the world's biggest failure of a person.

Objectively, I know my brain is sick and that makes doing some things more difficult for me. But even so, I cannot escape the crushing weight of guilt for not being able to act like a "normal" person who can just DO "normal" things. There's a siren going off telling me to get my responsibilities done, but there's also a voice shouting that nothing I do matters so just roll over and die already, and the noise inside my brain leaves me completely paralyzed.

I'm still learning how to cope with when these two opposing forces in my head go up against each other. All I've really learned is that there's nothing to do but go through it. I try to be gentle with myself, remembering that there are chemicals out of place in my brain and I am not a bad person for that. Speaking kindly to yourself when you're fighting mental illness is a lot easier said than done, but I'm trying.

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The Trauma Of My Illness Helped Me Fall In Love With Myself Again

I take a look back at what my experience has taught me a year later, now with fresh eyes and an open heart.

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My first year of college didn't exactly go as I had planned. Midway through the spring semester (last year), I was feeling overwhelmingly tired and sick with difficulty to breathe and at first, was misdiagnosed with a normal cold.

After only three days of these symptoms and then starting to cough up blood, I went to the ER at Temple University Hospital and was diagnosed with sepsis, strep, and bacterial pneumonia. Luckily, I was admitted in perfect time- before my organs started to fail before my life would be over.

I was very naive at the time and thought the recovery would be quick and easily forgettable. I can remember thinking "a couple of antibiotics should fix this right?" or "I'll just be here through the night, that's it".

I never would've guessed what was to actually happen- three weeks hospitalized, countless tests, IV's, medications, restless nights, surgery, nurses and doctors 24/7, four chest tubes, forced medical withdraw from school, the tears, the hurt, and the pain.

I missed my friends, my classes, my freedom to walk and use the bathroom on my own, the sight of my family's faces without a worried or tired look, and the feeling of inhaling without excruciating torment and pain.

These little things that I had so easily taken for granted before now seemed so distant, and terribly out of reach. I missed so much and at the same time felt so much helplessness, anxiety, and sadness.

I remember looking at myself in the plastic flimsy handheld mirror and not knowing the person looking back at me. I felt like a stranger in the shell of my body- emotionally and physically detached. I couldn't seem to get out of the negative headspace that was consuming me.

I couldn't help but imagine that I was just supposed to die, that I wasn't supposed to make it through.

I couldn't figure out why I was being punished in this way, a way that made me feel completely isolated, guilty for my name seeming to be in everyone's mouth all of the time, sad that for that span of time I felt like I had failed- even though I didn't ask for any of it.

I didn't want to get sick, I didn't want to 'drop out,' I didn't want to continue being a burden to everyone I loved.

But here's what I had such trouble seeing through my pain: love. I mean, I was so grateful and thankful for the well wishes and visitors of my friends and family, but I was missing the big picture.

Chalk it up to my selfishness at the time, or the heavy amount of painkillers I was on, or that maybe I was frozen in the overwhelming situation, but I truly had so much to be thankful for, and those first weeks in the hospital I was blind to this immense and incalculable love that was around me.

Through all of this hurt, there was so much love. I was so lucky to be alive, I was healing, and I was growing, and I continue to do so now.

It is the love of my friends and family that allowed me to realize how I should have been loving myself before I got sick. I should've been soaking up every moment I have, going the extra mile, and of course, loving myself.

I have since fallen in love with myself again- deeper than I ever have before. I stopped being picky with little things that used to bother me, I now accept myself for my flaws and embrace them, and I allow them to empower me.

I give myself time to heal, process, and figure things out. I don't shame myself for any of my imperfectness either. The love I give myself first then allows me to give love to others as well, to reciprocate the joy and care that others have given me.

This experience gave me new eyes, and I started to see things without the haze of my self-doubt. I feel a strength and power within myself that I never thought I had, which I am so very thankful for, and being pushed to my limits enabled me to understand other people's experiences with even more empathy than I thought possible.

Now, when I look in the mirror I know that no matter what my body may look or feel like- I will always be me, and I am so blessed because of that. My literal and figurative scars show me where I have been, what I have been able to endure, and what I have learned.

They also show me that I can (and will) keep going, keep loving, and continuously be unapologetic for who I am. I don't actually regret any of what happened to me, because it brought me so much closer to the ones I love, and most notably, it made me learn to love myself again.

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A Reminder That Your Best Is Always Enough

Don't let the stress of the season wear you down; just keep doing your best!

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Life gets overwhelming. For me personally, adjusting to college has been a whirlwind of finding new classes and studying habits, meeting new people and balancing school with a social life, and applying for jobs, scholarships, and now, apartments. This whole "adulting" thing is hard. It's not easy to find time to do everything you have on the agenda, on top of keeping yourself healthy mentally and physically. This pressure has been getting to me lately; I have so much to do before the end of the quarter and my stress levels are rising continuously. Of course, I'm excited about spring, the end of the year, and the excitement that next year will bring. But in the meantime, we all have a lot on our plates.

Personally, I've really enjoyed this first year of college so far, but I have felt the stress and pressure of it all, especially through this past winter quarter. I've been studying French for years now. This has been my first year of taking university-level French classes, and I've really been enjoying them. At the same time, though, it's been a lot of work to push myself to the standards of my professor and feel like I'm actually reaching fluency. As I'm sure many language learners can relate, I've reached a certain point in my studies that I feel I've reached fluency in comprehension, but I still hesitate in speaking the language and I get nervous about making mistakes orally.

I know that the solution to this roadblock is practice. I listen to French songs, watch movies and videos in French, and read French news articles and Tweets. Still, I don't feel like I have the time that I need to commit to becoming fluent. In addition, this year introduced me to the zero-waste routine. Although it's been an incredibly rewarding effort, it takes a lot of time, money, and dedication. Living in a dorm with a very small kitchen has made it difficult to truly practice the zero-waste lifestyle I hope for. Although I've reduced my waste immensely in shopping practices, there are still many ways that I could cut back on waste if my budget or living space allowed for it.

I do my best to practice what I preach, but sometimes I find myself taking the more convenient, wasteful route. My campus offers lots of ways to recycle and compost, but still, I can never escape the non-recyclable plastics that I have to throw away.

In reflecting on these thoughts the past few weeks, I have realized that all I can do in facing these hardships is my best. I'm reminding myself that I am not alone in my stress and personal dilemmas. Springtime tends to be insanely busy for me. As the school year wraps up there's a lot to do. I know that these next few months will fly by, so my goal is to stay productive and busy to keep myself happy and as stress-free as possible!

So, here's to each of us trying our best. Remember that pushing through struggles often results in a stronger, more confident version of ourselves. Keep up the good work; enjoy the spring weather and let it inspire you to stay on top of what needs to be done. Take care of you, and remind yourself that your best is always good enough!

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